Julie Moreno of Rancho Piccolo Organic Farm is looking forward to reduced costs and paperwork associated with being an organic producer after Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the California Organic Food and Farming Act, a historic update to the state’s organic program.
“It’s beneficial to us and it should reduce our costs by reducing the amount of fees we pay for certification,” said Moreno. “Any reduction in that is good for us.”
Based in Atwater, Rancho Piccolo Organic Farm was established in 2005 after owner David Silveira, who worked in a conventional agricultural business at the time, realized that he did not want to bring home the food he grew to his family.
“He knew what was sprayed on it and how it was grown,” said Moreno. “So he decided to open his own organic farm.”
Today, the certified organic farm spans 60 acres and grows over 70 different types of vegetables that are sold directly to consumers through the Community Supported Agriculture program. Once a week, the farm also delivers fruits and vegetables to businesses and homes in the Bay Area and Central Valley.
Brown’s signature on the California Food and Farming Act last week marked the first update to California’s state organic law and program in over a decade and bringing about much-needed reform to support the state’s growing organic sector.
The bill, which was sponsored by California Certified Organic Farmers and authored by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), earned broad bipartisan support in both houses of the California Legislature before receiving Brown’s signature.
“California’s state organic program has helped the state become the global leader in organics, but it has also created some duplicative fees and paperwork for producers,” said Stone. “COFFA will help limit those duplications and ensure California remains as a top producer of the high quality organic products enjoyed by consumers around the world.”
The updates to California’s state organic program are long overdue. For the past several years, the program has operated with millions of dollars in excess funds collected as registration fees from organic producers. Additionally, the program’s registration process requires information that duplicates what producers already report to their United States Department of Agriculture-accredited certifier.
COFFA streamlines the registration process by allowing USDA-accredited organic certifying agents to submit registration information for their clients directly to the state. CCOF will implement this process and anticipates saving CCOF-certified farmers hundreds of hours in paperwork every year, especially farmers growing multiple crops.
“It should be slightly less paperwork for us,” said Moreno. “CCOF comes out to our farm and they inspect us and we provide all documentation to them, so they submit all of that paperwork to the state.”
COFFA also updates the SOP fee schedule. California is the only state that requires certified organic producers to pay state-level registration fees in addition to their federal certification fees. COFFA lowers the fees for very small producers and caps the current fee schedule, with the possibility of future reductions as determined by the California Secretary of Agriculture in consultation with the California Organic Products Advisory Committee.
At one time, California had the most comprehensive organic standards in the nation and set the bar for organic certification. Then, CCOF and other organic leaders helped establish federal regulation of organic products through the USDA National Organic Program. The role of SOP today is to support NOP’s enforcement of federal organic standards, and COFFA will ensure that SOP processes stay up to date and align with those implemented by the NOP.
COFFA also allows the Secretary of Agriculture and COPAC to support organic agriculture through education, outreach, and other programmatic activities.
“COFFA supports the next era of growth in organic agriculture,” said CCOF Executive Director and CEO Cathy Calfo. “Today, organic is everywhere thanks to the integrity of the USDA label. This legislation gives important relief to producers and will help increase production to meet the tremendous consumer demand for organic products.”